The Challenge of Cultural Transformation

By Paramjot Kaur

Cover photo from UN Women

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The battle for gender equality has a multi-faceted opponent. One of the facets is birthed by conservative culture and traditions: social norms. When discussing the empowerment of women and finding solutions to the problems of rape culture, violence, and oppression, it’s difficult to find a universal key to unlock the door to gender equality. The culprit is social norms. The problem is not just that solutions are not reaching women who need them. Often, women in extremely patriarchal societies are reluctant to break free of oppression because of the fear of individual marginalization. 

During the Measuring and Exploring Prevalence and Patterns of Violence Against Women Across the Asia-Pacific Region panel field workers from the Solomon Islands reported that many women indicated they were uncomfortable with reporting violence due to fear of breaking the gender role for women in the society they live in, where they would be risking their image of being dutiful wives. The terrifying statistic of 1 out of 3 girls reporting sexual abuse that happened to them before the age of 15 only goes to show the importance of making violence unthinkable. Women are sexualized, labeled inferior, and fall prey to exploitation of their so-called inferiority. These solid statistics are millions of red flags across the world that indicate the need for transformation of social norms.

Although statistics show there is a lot of work to be done, violence and gender inequality are not permanent. Cultural transformation is happening. Mary Ellsberg, a panelist at the National and Community Based Prevention Programs Addressing Intimate Partner Violence panel presented her 20- year study on domestic violence in Nicaragua. Titled “Candles in Hell,” the survey collected the responses regarding domestic abuse of Nicaraguan women in 1995. After performing the study, it was observed that 71% of the 52% of women who reported abuse faced high levels of emotional abuse. However, when the survey took place once again in 2015, the percent of women who reported abuse was 42%. There was a decline in the number of women who believed domestic violence was acceptable if they were at fault for an issue and an incline of women who reported violence to forms of authority, such as police units.

Although not transparent, changes are happening. Even the smallest change can provide an array of hope. The efforts made by you and I are not going to waste. They are joining and strengthening a global movement to change the way our society works, to better the lives of those suffering and make the world a safer and happier place.

 

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